Watts Family Military History
Many of my readers have shared their own family's military past with me. Today I wanted to share a few bits of my family's military history with you.
FRANCIS BIRMINGHAM: USMC
My great-grandfather on my grandmother's side, Francis Birmingham, was orphaned at 8 years old. He ran away from his orphanage and joined the US Marine Corps when he was 16 years old. Family lore is that he lied about his age to enlist. He was born in 1897, went into the USMC in 1913. He went to Haiti and was part of occupation force there. He was then sent with his regiment to France and to Germany. He fought with the Fifth Marines at the Battle of Belleau Wood in Germany. Legend has it that this was where the Germans used the term Teufelshunde (Devil dogs) when describing the Marines. The name stuck.
My great-grandfather Francis Birmingham, standing.
Georges Scott (1873-1943) illustration "American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)" - originally published in the French Magazine "Illustrations" - retrieved from http://www.greatwardifferent.com/Great_War/Georges_Scott/Scott_Belleau_Wood_01.htm
GEORGE WATTS: USMC, US ARMY
My Great Uncle, George Watts, Norman's brother, enlisted in the US Marine Corps reserves January 4th, 1939. He remained in the US while in the Marine reserves. He was honorably discharged so he could enlist in the US Army on 7 AUG 1940. Rapid promotion ensued. Private to Corporal in early 1941, then became a Sergeant 15 February 1941. Then George Watts was honorably discharged to accept an appointment as a 2nd Lt. in the US Army in May 15th, 1942. Parachute training began in June 1942.
At this point he was an officer in the 82nd Airborne. They took troop transports from Ft. Benning to Camp Edwards in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, then trains to NY City, and took ships to Morocco and then Tunisia. They trained for several months while in northern Africa prior to D-Day Sicily. They took off from Tunisia, jumping from C-47's into Sicily.
He jumped on D-Day Sicily as a 2nd Lieutenant, and was part of the 504th Parachute Regiment. (See more details on that unit here: https://www.ww2-airborne.us/units/504/504_trp_4.html.) Only 15 men in his company survived. At some point, he was promoted to Captain George Watts. There was heavy fighting against the Germans in Italy during this time. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Niscemi fighting a German Infantry and Tank Battalion.
They were travelling towards Lt. Col. Darby's Rangers near Monte Cassino. He was killed by the Germans on Hill 950.
Of note, his unit didn't jump on D-Day France because his company was so decimated by action it saw in Italy, although we believe some of the survivors were put into other units by then.
NORMAN WATTS: US ARMY
My Grandfather, Norman Watts, was working as a civilian employee of the Navy in the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941.
After Pearl Harbor, Norman Watts returned to the mainland and enlisted in the army where he was trained as a mortar crewman in the infantry. He was assigned to A Company, 389th Infantry Regiment. His unit was put on the LCI(L)-659. LCI stands for Landing Craft Infantry. You can see a picture of one of these ships below.
History of USS LCI(L)-659
Commissioned USS LCI(L)-659, 4 March 1944, LTjg. T. A. Cook USNR in command
Reclassified Landing Craft Infantry (Gunboat) LCI(G)-659, 31 December 1944
Reclassified Landing Craft Infantry (Mortar) LCI(M)-659, 30 April 1945
During World War II USS LCI(L)-659 / LCI(G)-659 / LCI(M)-659 was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater:
LCI Flotilla Fourteen, CAPT. T. W. Rimer;
LCI Group Forty-Two, LCDR. A. H. Conners USNR;
LCI Division Eighty-Three and participated in the following campaigns:
|Campaigns and Dates||Campaigns and Dates|
|Leyte operations |
Leyte landings, 20 October 1944
|Iwo Jima operation |
Assault and occupation of Iwo Jima, 19 February to 3 March 1945
|Luzon operations |
Lingayen Gulf landing, 9 January 1945
|Okinawa Gunto operation |
Assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto, 26 March to 14 June 1945
Following World War II USS LCI(M)-659 was assigned to Occupation service in the Far East from 18 November to 1 December 1945
Crossing The Line
A long-held naval tradition is to ceremoniously initiate all crewmembers as they cross over significant longitude and latitude lines. When crossing the equator, US Navy ships hold a "crossing the line" ceremony where the previously initiated Shellbacks will kindly and gently welcome the rookie Pollywogs into the brotherhood of experienced sailors. Despite rumors to the contrary, let it be known that there have never been any instances of hazing or mistreatment during these ceremonies. (Although when I did it, I had bloodied knees from crawling around for hours on a steel deck while getting fire-hosed, and may have witnessed others throwing up repeatedly after drinking some type of mixture that included fermented crab juice and hot sauce.)
In 1945, crewmembers were given this card when they completed the Prime Meridian crossing. This is my grandfather's card:
And here is the card he received after crossing the equator. I can only guess what a Crossing The Line ceremony was like during WW2 when Japanese submarines and aircraft were roaming the Pacific, looking for a target.
Crossing the 180th again...
My understanding is that my grandfather Norman Watts was no longer on LCI-659 during Iwo Jima or Okinawa operations. But he was on mainland Japan after the occupation began.
Before my grandfather passed away, he told us the following:
-LCI 659 had a cracked hull and they were pumping water off the fantail the entire cruise
-they visited the Marianas Island Group, The Admiralties, New Guinea. They used Victoria, New Guinea as a base between attacks on Leyte and Luzon.
-from the time they left Hawaii they were aboard LCI 659 and chopped between 3rd and 7th Fleet for the assault on the Philippines
-their regiment returned his unit to Hawaii to prepare for the attack on Honshu, Japan, which never took place. (we think this is where he was when his ship was supporting Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations)
-when LCI 659 was headed back from the Philippines to Hawaii, they stopped in the Tinian Island Group to pick up some Japanese prisoners and escort them to a POW camp in Hawaii. (info on Tinian Island during WW2: https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/tinian-island)
From his separation papers, a description of his participation in the initial assault of Leyte and Luzon. I've tried to find out more about the "chemical" mortars. We think that the toxic gas was actually "white phosphorus", but it was so new that they were calling it "chemical".
DAVID WATTS: US ARMY
My father enlisted in the US Army in 1968. He was sent to a missile battalion in Pirmasens, Germany. He then served as a radio relay operator in Vietnam. First Brigade, Fifth Infantry, at Quanq-Tri. Served at Hill 950. During the battle of Lam Son 719, he was at Lang Vei.
ANDREW WATTS: US NAVY
I went on active duty Navy service July 1st 1999 when I was inducted into the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. I was commissioned as an Ensign in the US Navy on May 23, 2003. After two years of flight school (VT-6, HT-8), I was winged and sent to HSL-40 in Mayport, FL to learn how to fly the SH-60B. In 2006 I went to SERE training and then began my fleet service with the HSL-46 Grandmasters. I went on two deployments with HSL-46. One was a counter-drug deployment on the USS McInerney FFG-8. One was a counter-piracy deployment on the USS Halyburton FFG-40. I then spent two years as a helicopter flight instructor for the Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard at Whiting Field near Pensacola, FL. And my final deployment was on the USS Enterprise in 2012. On that deployment we supported OEF as part of Fifth Fleet. I was honorably discharged in 2013.
Thanks for reading.
I am honored to have served and proud of my family's military history. I hope you found this interesting.
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